Bradley County family believes bones found in Colorado may be missing son's remains

Bradley County family believes bones found in Colorado may be missing son's remains

July 8th, 2016 by Lynda Edwards in Local Regional News

This is a developing story.

Family photo of Joe Keller taken before he went missing in Colorado last year.

Family photo of Joe Keller taken before he...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Neal Keller, left, and Zoe Keller meet with reporters in the office of Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson, right, on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Cleveland, Tenn. The Keller's son, Joe Keller, is missing in Colorado.

Neal Keller, left, and Zoe Keller meet with...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation announced Friday evening that bones were discovered Wednesday in Conejos County near a road where Bradley County college student Joe Keller vanished the day before his 19th birthday on July 23, 2015.

Friends and family of Keller have maintained a website called Find Joe Keller, where well-wishers could offer prayers and encouragement and learn about ways in which they could donate to pay for search teams Keller's parents organized.

A brief message was posted on the site at 7:22 pm Friday: "Remains found in Conejos County On Wednesday July 6 2016 appear to [be] those of Joe Keller. At this time the remains are being examined to confirm identity."

The CBI issued a press release a few hours later.

"The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has been requested by the Conejos County Sheriff's Office to assist in the recovery of human remains located in the county on Wednesday, July 6, 2016," the release stated. "A hiker in the area discovered the remains in the Conejos Canyon, which is located near Forest Service Road 250, approximately four miles west of State Highway 17 and alerted authorities. Search teams from the Alamosa and Archuleta County sheriffs' offices joined CBI agents and members of the Conejos County Sheriff's Office to recover the remains. The Colorado State Patrol provided logistical support as well. The El Paso County Coroner's Office will work to identify the remains and determine the cause of death. There will be no speculation about the identity of the remains until official identification is made. The Conejos County Sheriff's Office will serve as the lead on this investigation. Media calls should be directed to the Sheriff's Office."

Keller and two friends were on a cross-country road trip when they stopped to spend time at a dude ranch in Conejos County, where Keller's relatives worked. Keller decided to go on a run along the service road before supper, leaving behind his phone. He was never seen again.

Keller has been remembered as a fixture in his hometown of Cleveland, well-known as a popular children's swim coach at the YMCA and a math wiz who wanted to be a high school math teacher. He volunteered to feed the homeless at a Salvation Army kitchen and worked on the family farm.

Conejos County residents responded to Keller's disappearance, volunteering to search on foot and horseback, loaning drones and search dogs to the effort. But Conejos County Sheriff Howard Galvez's handling of the investigation quickly became controversial. CBI spokeswoman Susan Medina told the Times Free Press in January that, according to Colorado law, the only way the CBI could become involved was if the lead law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction asked for help.

"We were never invited by [Galvez], and we were not involved in his investigation — and we are not involved now," Medina said.

In October 2015, Keller's father, Neal, flew to Colorado to plead with Conejos County commissioners to persuade Galvez to call the CBI.

"I, as the father of a missing boy — my only son, actually — would like to have as much resources as could possibly be made available," Neal Keller told commissioners.

Galvez was at the meeting and said the Kellers refused to consider that Keller may have run away from home.

The family doesn't think that's likely. They said he was wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and running shoes and left behind his debit and credit cards, cash, phone, clothing and computer. The Bradley County Sheriff's Office told the Times Free Press it had examined voicemails and texts on all the devices belonging to Keller and his friends and found no hints of depression or discord.

The family raised money for a search that included K-9 teams this year and posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to Joe's discovery. People with information may call 1-844-FindJoe, or 423-650-4924, or Crimestoppers at 719-589-4111.

Contact staff writer Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or ledwards@timesfreepress.com.


This story was updated July 9 at 2:30 a.m.


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